On April 2, 2013, President Obama introduced The BRAIN initiative, in which the word “BRAIN” stands for Brain Research through Advanced Innovative Neurotechnologies.
Their initial proposal is for $100 million of the president’s 2014 budget. But they will be spending much more than that, because it is very similar to the human genome project that was started in 1990 and completed in 2003. In the human genome project, the total cost over that long period of time was $3.8 billion. While that’s a lot of money, the federal impact study shows that the return on that $3.8 billion, economically, was $800 billion as of 2010, and it’s still producing returns.
Another non-federal agency estimated that for every dollar spent on the human genome project, $140 was returned to the economy. So the return on these types of investments is very big. Even more important, they have the ability to stimulate the economy in areas where we need stimulation, which is in science, math, computer science, biology, and computer technology.
What is unique about the BRAIN initiative, though, is that it’s looking at understanding the fundamentals of the active brain, which we don’t know much about. Why is this important to all of us? Right now, it’s estimated there are more than one billion people worldwide suffering from more than 1,000 brain disorders and diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism. Additionally, these diseases cost many billions of dollars in hospital stays, lost wages, and lost productivity, just to name a few. Having a complete model of an active human brain will definitely lead to discoveries and possibly even cures for these conditions.
This mapping of the active human brain is going to give us incredible insights into perceptions, the actions we take, and not only our conscious mind, but also our subconscious mind. Realize that your subconscious mind is very active. Your subconscious mind is always working on things, even when you’re doing conscious activities like driving, talking on the phone, or washing dishes. Having knowledge of the active subconscious mind, along with the conscious mind, can lead to amazing insights that have yet to be defined.
It’s important to note that the results of this initiative will affect far more than just biology, neuroscience, and nanoscience. It’s also going to affect all areas of science and technology. In fact, there is already strong interest in the initiative from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, to name a few, because we’re really talking about medical informatics, new computer modeling, advanced simulations, and the list goes on.
Overall, I see this as an extremely positive move given the high return on investment from other similar programs such as putting a man on the moon and the human genome project. The brain is the most mysterious yet important organ we possess. It controls everything in the human body. And given the cost of all of the diseases that are afflicting so many worldwide (and the fact that the projections are for those diseases to get worse), this initiative is very welcomed, both to the economy and to the scientific world, and it should be welcomed by everyone reading this right now.